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Blending Indonesian and Slovak music

A host of cultural presentations, concerts and other kinds of performances, including several rather exotic ones, have graced Bratislava this summer. But few of them combined a faraway culture with local culture as well as the musical and dance performance by a joint Indonesian-Slovak gamelan orchestra in the square of Bratislava’s Eurovea complex on July 15. The orchestra, embracing both Indonesian and Slovak musicians as well as dancers of multiple origins, played traditional Indonesian music and performed several kinds of dance. From the audience’s reaction, it was clear that a love for music and dance can easily bridge cultures from nearly halfway around the world. In Indonesia, a gamelan is a musical ensemble, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring various percussion instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs, joined by bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings, and sometimes vocalists. The gamelan orchestra performing in Bratislava is called Gong Keybar, meaning the group plays vividly and allegro. One of the pieces offered on July 15 combined these traditional Indonesian instruments with the fujara – the long-pipe instrument originally used by Slovak shepherds. The Slovak Spectator spoke with one member of the orchestra, Meylia Wulandari, the head of the Indonesian embassy’s social, cultural, tourism and media department, about the idea of founding such a musical ensemble in Slovakia and about its artistic goals.

A host of cultural presentations, concerts and other kinds of performances, including several rather exotic ones, have graced Bratislava this summer. But few of them combined a faraway culture with local culture as well as the musical and dance performance by a joint Indonesian-Slovak gamelan orchestra in the square of Bratislava’s Eurovea complex on July 15. The orchestra, embracing both Indonesian and Slovak musicians as well as dancers of multiple origins, played traditional Indonesian music and performed several kinds of dance. From the audience’s reaction, it was clear that a love for music and dance can easily bridge cultures from nearly halfway around the world.

In Indonesia, a gamelan is a musical ensemble, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring various percussion instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs, joined by bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings, and sometimes vocalists. The gamelan orchestra performing in Bratislava is called Gong Keybar, meaning the group plays vividly and allegro. One of the pieces offered on July 15 combined these traditional Indonesian instruments with the fujara – the long-pipe instrument originally used by Slovak shepherds.

The Slovak Spectator spoke with one member of the orchestra, Meylia Wulandari, the head of the Indonesian embassy’s social, cultural, tourism and media department, about the idea of founding such a musical ensemble in Slovakia and about its artistic goals.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How did Gong Keybar come into existence?
Meylia Wulandari (MW):
The gamelan orchestra started when we received the instruments from Bali, Indonesia here at the embassy. It was a long and difficult process to obtain the instruments but finally they arrived and we could start forming a group.

TSS: What about the idea of merging Indonesian musicians and dancers with Slovaks? Whose idea was it and how did you find Slovaks who were willing and capable of joining?
MW:
The people playing the instruments are mainly Slovaks but there are also some Indonesians playing who work here at the embassy. Finding people to join the orchestra and dance group was actually not very difficult; some of the players are friends of employees here at the embassy, others were studying music in Indonesia before, and some of them just saw us performing and asked if they could join in and so it came to be that they are now part of our group.

To find dancers we also made announcements on our website and put posters in art conservatories and universities here in Bratislava. Most of the group are not professional musicians or dancers but their love and high interest, especially for this kind of culture, is so overwhelming that they were able to learn a significant number of songs and dances that could be performed on stage with success. The idea of merging Slovak musicians and dancers with Indonesians was a natural thing to do as we are a diplomatic mission of Indonesia in Slovakia and our main purpose is to bring our two countries closer by different means, including culture – which is such an important aspect in our lives.

TSS. A very interesting piece combined the Slovak fujara with Indonesian percussion. How did you come across the idea and who adapted the traditional Indonesian tune for the fujara?
MW:
Meditation, the piece for the fujara and gamelan, was actually a very important project in our activities and we are very happy to see that people are interested in this song. The idea of this fusion came from our struggles to bring Slovak and Indonesian culture closer together, thus fulfilling our main goal that I spoke about earlier.

If you think about it, when you listen to Balinese gamelan music this project represents a very big challenge mainly because the sound of the fujara is so soft and sweet while the Balinese gamelan – especially the one that we have at the embassy – is known for its strong, explosive tones. So it was not an easy thing to do but everything is possible with a little bit of imagination. The idea of combining these instruments and the construction of the musical structure belongs to the gamelan’s leader, Lucian Zbarcea, who is actually a licensed composer and holds a masters degree in Language and Style of Composition from the University of Music in Bucharest, Romania.

But for the realisation of the song the fujara player, Martin Putiš, who is one of the most important people in the gamelan because of the Indonesian instrument that he usually plays when he is not playing the fujara, had the most important contribution and the final product is actually the result of collaboration between the two. This is not the first time that we tried to merge the two very different kinds of music and for sure it will not be the last time. We are always searching for new ways and means to create a successful fusion between our very different cultures.

TSS: What are plans for future performances, either in Slovakia or abroad?
MW:
We have prepared new songs and performances. After Eurovea, we appeared in Košice on August 20 and this was the first time we performed in that part of Slovakia. We also performed at the folk festival in Dubnica nad Váhom on August 26. Another show is set up at the Kempinsky Hotel on September 8 on the occasion of Independence Day for the Republic of Indonesia. We are continuously searching for new possibilities to perform on stage and if they take place outside of Slovakia as well, that would be great.

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